Studded Snows

What’s the one thing that makes Vermont winters survivable? Friends? Laughter? Knitting? A chicken roasting in the oven? Nope: snow tires.

Driving to Burlington on a snowy Sunday morning to interview a young poet, I kept thinking, At least I bought new snow tires. When my daughter disappears in the darkness to work, I think, I’m so glad I shelled out for those tires.

On my way home through the Calais back roads, I pull over at the town hall, a beautiful and somewhat mysterious building to me — why is it here? what’s the history that’s now disappeared around this building? I’ve been listening to NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and laughing so hard I’m actually crying.

Outside my little Toyota, I’m immediately reminded of winter’s enchanting beauty, the bit of wind on my cheeks and the snowflakes in my eyelashes. Sunday afternoon, and no one’s out and about, save for one  grownup far down the road, walking a dog. Leaving my car at the roadside, I walk down to the meeting house and stand there, staring up at the steeple in the gauzy snow, listening. Then I put those snow tires to use again.

Winter seclusion —
Listening, that evening,
To the rain in the mountain.

— Issa



Better Perspective

A milk truck rolling slowly up Bridgeman Hill catches the sunset on its long, silvery side. The mud-splattered Booth Bros.’s truck reflects that sky behind and above me — ruby clouds — and that movable art mural is so wonderfully awesome I’m taken out of time, snapped back into the world only as the truck has nearly passed and I realize the driver has lifted one hand, waving a greeting.

I watch the truck continue its gradual roll up the hill, where pavement gives way to dirt road. As I descend down the hill, the village glows beneath that magnificent sunset — the granite town building, the long strings of electric lines, the houses well-tended or ramshackle — players in a landscape of cosmic beauty.

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
But radishes.



Bloody Nose

My daughter’s nose has been bleeding for days — a trickle, a stream, and suddenly she bleeds steadily from both nostrils.

7:30 on an utterly dark evening just after Christmas: we’re at a gas station at the edge of town on what feels like the coldest evening of the year. Save for a teenage boy in the convenience store, playing on his phone, no one’s around.

While my older daughter hands paper towels to her sister in the car, I stand under the florescent lights and call the ER. What’s the threshold for a bloody nose? I ask. I get fever, but when I should I worry about a bloody nose?  Utterly unconcerned, the nurse tells me I’ll know.

On a post beside me, I read a dirty sign — Fresh Sandwiches To Go — and wonder how many years ago that sign was someone’s bright idea.

I’ll know?

Through the car window, I see my daughter’s eyes, frightened.

Over the holidays, my brother told her all minerals were formed in supernovas and made their far way to earth through meteorites. How cool is that? he said. Our bodies are created from ancient stars.

A single pickup truck passes along the two-lane highway.

The night is utterly still, the darkness beating around us — alive — the pulse of the universe, miraculous with ancient remnants of stars, my open eyes at the edge of the infinite unknown.

Then we head home, where the cats sprawl, sleeping.




My daughters’ gentle-pawed cats cry in the night, dragging a toy mouse around the hall and looking for company. Nearly 20 years a mother, the nether realms of nights are my familiars. I lie listening to wind chimes singing in the nighttime wind.

At the solstice, the darkness is no stranger to us now. The afterschool children ski around my library in the utter darkness.

While waiting for pasta water to boil, my 13-year-old and I slice and eat wedges of cheese — a Christmas gift. Around our little house, I imagine the moon making her steady, slow rise into the starry sky above our metal roof, the unbroken night pooling through this village, with its lit-up twinkling strings of white and colored Christmas lights.

So, the day funnels down into the night, this year into the next. She talks about our old house — unfinished was the word we always used for the house, and she says it again, unfinished. I push aside my stack of work papers. Between us is a little bonsai plant, a gift from her friend.

I keep listening to this girl — just her and me and the cats beginning for crumbles of cheese. Goodness, adolescence — clear and mysterious as the rising full moon. She stirs the boiling water.

You can contemplate existence all you want, at the end of the day someone needs to blow their nose and hand you a dirty tissue.

— Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritko, Letters From Max: a book of friendship


Joyful Interlude

A few years back, I told the man at the dump about an argument I’d had with my now ex. The old man always assessed what I had for garbage and recycling and then suggested what I should pay. Are you okay with that price? he’d always ask me. We had a sugaring and carpentry business then, and I often had strange assortments of things like moldy sap lines or boxes of broken syrup jars or a busted stroller.

The old man — who always spoke to my rowdy toddler daughter — told me to take her swimming for the day. That’s what you need to be doing today.

I think of him every time I go to the dump.

Before my second daughter was born, he suffered a terrible burn accident and died a prolonged and horrific death. I know this because I read his obituary in the newspaper one fall when I was crumpling up newsprint to build a fire in my wood stove. Those days when I pulled into the dump with my lively daughter and the million things I was doing then — syrup and mothering and trying to figure out my life — the day of his death seemed far away.

There’s a lesson in this I repeat to myself, that I must swallow down into the marrow of my bones. Seize joy — the unremarkable days of swimming that make up a life.

… We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left… very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins…. whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

— Mary Oliver


In the Gloaming

Even the kids remark on the darkness.

In our kitchen, the girls baking cookies after school turn on the overhead light. At my library, the little children play outside in the afternoon dark, rolling down the snowy hillside in their bulky clothes.

I turn on the outside light beside the door for the parents. It’s not yet 5 o’clock.

Around our house, a bitter wind swirls snowflakes with tiny teeth. On our red rug, the cats stretch, indolent. Through the vast space, on our heavenly blue-and-emerald body, we spin.

Already light is returning pairs of wings
lift softly off your eyelids one by one
each feathered edge clearer between you
and the pearl veil of day

You have nothing to do but live.

— From “Winter Solstice” by Anonymous